This article is part of a Huffington Post series on the global impact of austerity -- "A Thousand Cuts" -- from affordable housing funds lost in San Francisco to increasing class sizes in New York, food inspector cuts in Canada, disability benefits taken away in the United Kingdom, decimation of France's solar industry, and more. Click here for information on how you can help people affected by these measures.
Juan Antonio de la Cruz, 18, is a fan of 'La Roja,' Spain's national soccer team. He wears the team jersey proudly, but he has never been to a game. There are other priorities.
Juan Antonio was born with cerebral palsy, and most of his family's resources are spent caring for him. The government support that helped him and other people with similar disabilities -- known in Spain as "dependents" -- is dwindling, thanks to austerity measures undertaken to reduce the deficit, so his family bears an increasing share of the burden.
An assistant, paid with public money, used to aid Juan Antonio's mother, María Dolores Sánchez Maldonado, 56, also known as Lola, by waking him up every morning, bathing and dressing him, and helping to get him ready for school. Another assistant would spend time with him in the afternoon.
But last year's regional elections in Madrid confirmed the absolute majority of the center-right Popular Party (Partido Popular), which had campaigned on a platform that included budget cuts. On May 23, 2011, the day after the vote, Lola received a call from government officials. "At 8:15 a.m., they called me to announce that they were taking away that support," she said.
Public aid contributed 700 euros ($920) to help pay for the wheelchair Juan Antonio needs, which his family bought a few years ago and which cost more than 4,500 euros ($5,500) in all. The wheelchair is almost an extension of his 77-pound body -- he uses it most of the day, constantly shifting and changing his posture to avoid circulation problems. Despite his family's investment of an additional 2,000 euros ($2,450) in replacement parts, the chair has worn down, and Lola is thinking about buying another one. This time, though, she won't receive any support from the government.
Yet Lola considers herself to be among the "fortunate" ones. "I can allow myself to take care of my kid because I don't smoke, drink, go to the hairdressing salon or put on makeup," she said. "I've been working for many years, and I can count on my spouse's help to take care of my son and come through."
Juan Antonio will always need care. He barely speaks, has little motor control and must be fed through a tube in his navel. The state, however, is less willing to assist him than before. Last month, the Spanish government announced cuts under the Dependency Law (Ley de Dependencia), a legislative effort approved in 2006 that guaranteed for the first time public aid for people who cannot physically look after themselves. Over the next two years, the government plans to slash almost 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) from the funds allotted to the dependency program.
Although it's still not clear what measures will be taken to achieve those cuts, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's administration has said that it plans to reduce funding by 15 percent and that it will place a two-year moratorium on processing applications for dependency funding.
"A lot of people will die waiting for the [financial] aid," said Purificación Causapié, a former managing director of the Institute of the Elderly and Social Services (Instituto de Mayores y Servicios Sociales) who worked for the previous socialist government.
As a consequence of the austerity measures, Lola will have to start covering 50 percent of the cost of her son's medicines, a 10 percent increase from what she pays now. "Just last year, I spent 1,500 euros ($1,840) on his medicines, which are partially covered [by the government]," she said. "But this year, I believe I'll reach 2,000 euros ($2,450) due to this raise."
Juan Antonio can't control his bladder, so he needs at least five diapers per day, for which his mother must pay. In September, the sales tax on diapers will rise from 8 to 21 percent, a hike that has driven Lola to forgo her summer vacation this year to save money.
The sales tax on the small needles through which Juan Antonio is fed is also set to rise. Lola generally uses one a week, but over time she has learned, she said, "the tricks to make them last a little bit longer."
"What I don't understand is why they don't raise the taxes of jewelry, luxury cars, or rich people and the enterprises they set up to evade their fiscal responsibilities," she said.
Lola's own health could also be affected by the increasing cost of medicine. She suffers with fibromyalgia and is recovering from breast cancer.
It's summer in Madrid, and for now Juan Antonio can "do what he like to do most: wander, see people and discover new places," his mother said. Fortunately, as Lola pointed out, those are all inexpensive activities.
In a cafeteria, she and Juan Antonio run into María Teresa Lozano, who just received a letter from the regional government denying her long-sought financial compensation for the cost of taking care of her mother, who died four years ago. Her case is typical of that facing caregivers of elderly dependents, who constitute the majority of the 800,000 Spaniards receiving any type of public assistance.
According to Marisa Soleto, director of the advocacy group Women's Foundation (Fundación Mujeres), decreases in this type of financial aid hit women hardest. "Women, who are traditionally the ones who more often take care of their elderly parents, have a lower salary than men," she said. "In reality, what is being created [by this policy] is a group of women with a higher risk of poverty."
Lola and María Teresa curse their luck, although they repeat that they could be worse off. They have a plan. "When we turn 67 [the legal retirement age], we'll buy some guns, rob a bank and go to jail," Lola joked. "We'll have four meals every day, and they'll take care of us."
By her side, Juan Antonio also smiled, though it's difficult to know to what extent he is aware of what is going on. What happens to him if public aid keeps being cut back, Lola wonders.
"Juan Antonio is my source of worries, but he is also my motivation. I pray to God that he will take him before he takes me," Lola said, as tears filled her eyes.
But that is likely far in the future, and Lola knows she still has a lot of fighting ahead of her.
Austerity Measures Devastate Communities Around The World
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/austerity-measures-a-thousand-cuts_n_1666309.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> The austerity budget, conservatives' favored response to the Great Recession, is more than just simple belt tightening. It's not one cut or 10, but a thousand. City and neighborhood essentials like bus service become expendable, and things that we have come to depend on as part of our daily lives are slowly erased. Those teachers and firefighters <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/mitt-romney-we-dont-need-more-cops-firefighters-or-teachers/2012/06/08/gJQAvOgDOV_blog.html" target="_hplink">Mitt Romney doesn't want</a> to pay for? They're already part of austerity's disappeared jobs. This austerity mindset is taking hold not just in cities and states across the United States, but around the world. While conservatives have championed austerity as eat-your-peas necessity, these massive cuts often have unintended consequences.
Fire Department Cuts
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/fire-department-cuts-a-thousand-cuts_n_1659671.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> "They are asking you to do more with less," Westfield, N.J., firefighters union president Mike Sawicki said. "A second-grader can figure that out. Show up with nine guys, and it is easier to save." While the number of deadly fires has declined over the last 20 years nationwide, thanks to better construction and safety techniques, fire departments are increasingly called upon to answer medical emergencies, chemical spills and more, said Garry Biese, CEO for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Yet fire departments are going short-handed. The precipitous drop in state and local revenues caused by the Great Recession, combined with budget cuts pushed by austerity-minded politicians, has led to static or slowly dropping staffing levels across the country.
Larger Class Sizes
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/14/larger-class-size-a-thousand-cuts_n_1659591.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> When Shania started third grade at P.S. 148 last fall, she was thrilled to be back at the Queens public school. An outgoing eight-year-old, she said she was happy to be among her friends again, and she had loved her class the previous year. Her second-grade teacher would take the time to explain tricky topics like addition and subtraction one-on-one. She had even been named "student of the month." But since 2007, as the economy has tanked and expenses for public schools have risen, New York City has made principals cut budgets by 13.7 percent. When budgets are cut, teachers are fired and others aren't replaced -- including at P.S. 148, which has lost at least $600,000 and eight teachers since 2010. When teachers are lost, class sizes balloon. Shania had 31 classmates this past school year, compared to 20 the year before.
'The Big Problem For Me Is Fear'
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/15/austerity-measures-uk-a-thousand-cuts_n_1670711.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE for the full story.</a> Since birth, Lisa Egan, 33, has dealt with a rare genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. The condition has caused more than 60 fractures in Egan's lifetime, including five separate breaks in 2011. "I once broke my back sleeping in an awkward position," she said. Because her disease is "wearing out her joints," doctors told Egan to use a wheelchair. "I can walk a very short distance and very slowly," said Egan, who lives in Camden, North London. "But sometimes things happen, such as my knee dislocates or I will tear a tendon out of a metatarsal and pull the end of the bone off with it. ... So I use a wheelchair most of the time." Despite her condition, Egan said she does not like to be seen as "vulnerable." Intelligent and articulate, she has written extensively on disability and politics, and has even tried a stint at stand-up comedy. As one of nearly 500,000 people in the United Kingdom who rely on welfare benefits, however, Egan now experiences fear daily: fear for her future, fear for her ability to live independently, even fear for her life.
Public Transit Crisis
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/detroit-bus-cuts-a-thousand-cuts_n_1647867.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Waits have been getting longer for many of the roughly 107,000 to 117,000 daily passengers who depend on Detroit's bus fleet. The city has lost about half of its bus service since 2005, according to Transportation Riders United, a rider advocacy group. Under the Detroit Department of Transportation's new "415" plan, the city has increased service along its four busiest routes, with buses now running every 15 minutes, but the new schedule necessitated tradeoffs elsewhere. In March, the department, whose management had recently been privatized by the city, shortened hours on more than 30 routes and discontinued all service between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. The changes, which the city anticipates will save $40 million a year, have forced an estimated 3,200 nighttime travelers to come up with alternative plans for getting around town and left others waiting longer on the side of the road. "I'm hurting. A lot of times they don't come around, and when they do, they pass you by," said George Jones, 57.
Fewer Food Inspectors
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/canada-food-safety-a-thousand-cuts_n_1664579.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Frances Clark's last moments were not peaceful. Flu-like symptoms and seizures wracked her body. Her breathing deteriorated. At the end, she was "gasping, like a fish out of water," her daughter recalled later in court documents. The 89-year-old woman died on Aug. 25, 2008, the first victim of a listeriosis outbreak that killed 23 people, sickened thousands more and triggered the biggest food recall in Canadian history. A government investigation determined the cause of the outbreak: tainted meat from processing giant Maple Leaf Foods. The company apologized to the victims and settled a number of lawsuits, including one brought by Clark's family, for CAD$27 million. Following the scandal, the federal government introduced significant changes to its meat inspection program, including nearly doubling the number of inspectors from 225 to 400. But now, the government has slashed the budget for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal department responsible for food safety, by $56 million over the next three years.
Affordable Housing Gap
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/affordable-housing-san-francisco-a-thousand-cuts_n_1666760.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Roman Quinn said getting clean would have been nearly impossible if he were still living on the streets. But his struggle to find a place to live proved nearly as difficult as his struggle to find sobriety. San Francisco has nonprofit groups and other programs in place to help the city's most vulnerable residents -- people like Quinn and, increasingly, families tossed out of their homes due to the recession -- find housing. In recent months, however, that system has been greatly strained. Federal housing grants and tax credit programs have decreased drastically. Last year alone, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which doles out grants to municipalities for things like affordable housing construction and down payment assistance, saw its budget slashed by almost 38 percent. And changes at the state level last year cost the city about $50 million worth of tax revenue that had gone toward affordable housing. Meanwhile, the flood of individuals who have lost their jobs and homes in recent years has swelled the demand for affordable housing. It became so bad that the city's public housing authority closed the waiting list to new applicants in 2010. The list has yet to reopen. Without new sources of funding, success stories, even ones as tenuous as Quinn's, will be increasingly uncommon.
New Industry Struggles
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/austerity-measures-france-a-thousand-cuts_n_1679428.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> While austerity measures remain comparatively limited in France, one field has suffered considerably: renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic systems. Over the past few years, nearly half the jobs in the sector, a total of 12,000, have been disappeared. According to the Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables, the renewable-energy trade union, nearly one-third of those jobs vanished in 2011. Entrepreneurs like Kilian Heim, who had gone out to conquer this new market, are now restarting from zero.
Austerity's Big Winners
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/austerity-wall-street_n_1690838.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> The austerity game also has winners. Cutting or eliminating government programs that benefit the less advantaged has long been an ideological goal of conservatives. Doing so also generates a tidy windfall for the corporate class, as government services are privatized and savings from austerity pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens.
How You Can Help
As readers of The Huffington Post, you can take action to help those affected by these austerity measures. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/austerity-cuts-how-you-can-help_n_1669072.html" target="_hplink">Click here for information on what you can do.</a>